4 Alternatives to the Front Lawn
“As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.”
While a turf lawn serves many purposes it is not the most environmentally friendly option out there due to its very nature. This nature would include it being a monoculture, high maintenance, not effective wildlife habitat, and a contributer to nutrient loading in streams. While I do not aspire to do away with lawns entirely it does seem that some lawns have gotten a bit big for their britches and serve no no purpose beyond existing. The topics I will cover in this post include, rain gardens, urban gardening, shrub/tree plantings and native plantings.
Like the name implies these are gardens designed to catch rain runoff from building, pavements or even other vegetated services such as Kentucky Bluegrass lawns that don't provide any or enough infiltration of water into the soil. These rain gardens are designed using native plants that will provide a variety a vegetation types including native grasses, flowers and maybe even small shrubs or trees depending on the size of the garden. If located properly these will catch most of the runoff from a house and lawn area and trap the water in the garden which will allow it to infiltrate into the soil. In urban or suburban situation this can greatly reduce storm water runoff into cities system and what water does reach the is cleaner that what would have gone down the storm drains. In Burnsville, MN they conducted a experiment to see how well rain gardens to capture storm water runoff using two similar watershed located near each other in the town. One they left as a control and the other they installed 17 rain gardens in the neighborhood to capture both runoff from individual lawns but to also capture from the gutters along the street. What they found after the gardens were installed was a that street contributed 90% less storm water than the control street. Not only is that reduction a boon for storm water management it also reduced the amount of sediment and nutrients that were flooding into Crystal Lake. To top it all off is designed correctly, they can be very aesthetically pleasing and are a great addition to any front yard. To read more about the Burnsville, MN study check out this linkhttp://www.landandwater.com/features/vol48no5/vol48no5_2.html.
This is one that is personally near and dear to my heart. While I have not yet had the pleasure of doing this yet it does seem like such a fun way to interact with you neighbors and the rest of the city. Urban gardening can provide a myriad of environmental benefits from the creation of a diverse vegetative patch amongst other lawns to growing your own vegetables and fruits and the health benefits that those food will provide. This can be done similar to any garden that you might have in your backyard but please take care to find any utilities before you start to prepare the site and make sure that your city does not have any ordinances against the establishment of urban gardens. If you thought I was joking about the ordinances just check out this article http://eatdrinkbetter.com/2011/07/10/oak-park-garden-another-family-fined-for-growing-food/
Other options for urban gardening include raised beds, container gardening's or if your really tight on space you could even do hydroponics. For how to build a raised garden bed I am personally a fan of this article by Popular Mechanics,
For those apartment dwellers out there I am a big fan of the following hydroponic system. It can either be a bought kit or with a little DIY'ing it can be a neat weekend project.
Trees and Shrubs
This one is fairly straight foreword you would just have to pick up some of your favorite shrubs and trees and plant them in your front yard. This is defiantly a long term investment and it would be prudent to do a little research to make sure that the sapling you love wont become the tree you hate. Some things to consider will be the growth form of the plants, how tall they will get, do the limbs break easily, what sort of flowers,leaves or fruits do they produce and many other things that I will not cover. Others things that should be taken into account would be local ordinances that may or may not prohibit or limit what you can plant. This one can also be friendly to your wallet in the long run because of the heating and cooling cost that trees and shrubs can provide if planted in the right locations.
This one is very similar to the tree's and shrubs in that you would plant local native grasses, flowers and other plants that would mimic local native ecosystems. This would provide a low maintenance seasonal cover that would be very attractive to see and potential very beneficial to wildlife such as birds and butterflies. One this I would like to mention under this is Xeriscaping. Xeriscaping is done with the main intention of water conservation and thus is a more prevalent concept in the western part of the USA. Many of the concepts of Xeriscaping can be applied to create native landscapes but they are not necessary. If this is something that is interesting i would suggest consulting with a University Extension agent or the local NRCS office for suggestions of local native plants that would be effective for you needs and location. If Xeriscaping is something that interests you you can read more about it at these locations,
Similar documents such as these can be found at either your states land management agency sites or federal land management sites dedicated to your state.